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cut no ice
Posted: 04 May 2009 06:41 AM   [ Ignore ]
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If we’ve done this one, I can’t find it.  My wife asked me about the origin of “That cuts no ice with me,” and I was at a loss.  Online suggestions involve ice skates, icebreakers, ice fishing, etc.; Quinion is also at a loss, ending his discussion with:

My feeling is that cuts no ice was a figurative expression right from the start, based on the very common presence of ice in the home and playing on its hardness and coldness as a metaphor for unresponsiveness or lack of empathy.

Any ideas?

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Posted: 04 May 2009 07:37 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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My impression has always been that it refers to the cutting of ice (from lakes and such) into blocks (which were then stored and used in refrigerating food, etc., back in the days before mechanical refrigeration), as a form of useful work.  Cf. “Sorry don’t shine no shoes” (or “...feed the bulldog").

But that’s just my impression. All I can cite in support of it is that the date of origin is consistent with the notion.

[ Edited: 06 May 2009 10:13 AM by Dr. Techie ]
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Posted: 04 May 2009 08:14 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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That’s an interesting question. I’ve always had the mental impression of an icebreaker cutting a passage through to clear waters, or rather failing to do so. None of the early cites in OED (first one 1895) give any clues either.

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Posted: 06 May 2009 06:21 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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Note that Quinion’s 1874 example is bogus (I’m not the only one who gets fooled by Google Books).

My earliest example is 1894, I think.

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Posted: 06 May 2009 11:11 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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I’d just like to quash the widespread notion, referred to by Quinion, that Patrick O’Brian asserted that “cuts no ice” is derived from a Native American phrase; he did no such thing. An awful lot of people seem to have completely missed the point of the exchange in The Fortunes of War in which the phrase is referred to. Here it is (Stephen Maturin, one of his heroes, is in Boston talking to a local man about “vulgar colonialisms” in American English):

Why, sure,’ said Evans [the Bostonian], in his harsh nasal metallic bray, ‘the right American English is spoke in Boston, and even as far as Watertown. You will find no corruption there, I believe, no colonial expressions, other than those that arise naturally from our intercourse with the Indians. Boston, sir, is a well of English, pure and undefiled.’

‘I am fully persuaded of it,’ said Stephen. ‘Yet at breakfast this morning Mr Adams, who was also riz in Boston, stated that hominy grits cut no ice with him. I have been puzzling over his words ever since. I am acquainted with the grits, a grateful pap that might with advantage be exhibited in cases of duodenal debility, and I at once perceived that the expression was figurative. But in what does the figure consist? Is it desirable that ice should be cut? And if so, why? And what is the force of with?’

After barely a moment’s pause, Mr Evans said, ‘Ah, there now, you have an Indian expression. It is a variant upon the Iroquois katno aiss’ vizmi - I am unmoved, unimpressed.’

The implication is perfectly clear that Evans, having categorically asserted that Bostonian English contains no “colonial expressions”, has been obliged to improvise a fabricated “Indian” etymology for the one mentioned by Stephen.

[ Edited: 07 May 2009 04:59 AM by Syntinen Laulu ]
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Posted: 08 May 2009 02:47 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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Something which I just recently noticed: Before this “cut no ice” appeared, there was “cut no figure”, which was synonymous and used about the same. “Cut a figure” or “cut [some] figure” = “be important/significant” or so.

E.g.: from G. Books:

1889: //And the mere fact that I am alone cuts no figure with me.//

1889: //What their grandfathers and grandmothers did cuts no figure with them.//

1893: //It was to show that a man’s honesty cuts no figure with God//

1896: //That this tariff is denounced by the politicians of both political parties cuts no figure with the American voter.//

1897: //Public clamor or public sentiment cut no figure with him in the plain discharge of his public duties.//

There are lots and lots more.

---------- (line between fact and hypothesis) ----------

My latest hypothesis is that “cut no ice” was introduced on the basis of the supposition (genuine or humorous) that “cut no figure” meant “do no figure-skating”, very similar to “cut no ice” = “do no skating”.

[ Edited: 08 May 2009 02:51 PM by D Wilson ]
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Posted: 08 May 2009 04:04 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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Interesting!

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Posted: 09 May 2009 10:31 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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Just as an aside, I’ve heard fans comment about the depth of O’Brian’s research in writing his novels.  He does have a lot of detail in the novels that give some versimilitude.  Maybe because of the detail, it is irritating when he gets things wrong.  I recall in one books he had Maturin studying platypuses in a pool in the day time—when the animals are nocturnal.  He also had Orangutans featured in one book in family groups—when they are really solitary apes. 

I suppose this is nitpicking—but it really throws you off the page when he gets facts wrong.

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Posted: 15 May 2009 02:39 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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On platypus’s being nocturnal: I have seen them swimming in the daytime (though not the animal itself, out of the water). But in the same book, I’m pretty sure, Maturin collects a wombat to take home. He has it on board, and at one point it climbs into his arms. Well, that ain’t no wombat: they’re like small pigs, and don’t climb anywhere. They burrow. O’Brian surely had confused them with koalas, which do climb and look cute enough to cuddle.

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Posted: 15 May 2009 06:01 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
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Come in out of the cold!
Ice has been used in a number of slang expressions, including, reference to jewelery; imprisonment, to put on ice; the preimium charged on theater tickets by brokers is known as ice; to snub (cold shoulder); to clinch a victory as in “...put the game on ice, or in the icebox”; prearrange a race, put the race on ice or in the ice box. So, saying “Cut’s no ice...” meaning of no consequence can come from any number of sources and fits each in their own unique way.

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Posted: 16 July 2009 01:34 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]
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Syntinen Laulu - 06 May 2009 11:11 PM

I’d just like to quash the widespread notion, referred to by Quinion, that Patrick O’Brian asserted that “cuts no ice” is derived from a Native American phrase; he did no such thing. An awful lot of people seem to have completely missed the point of the exchange in The Fortunes of War in which the phrase is referred to. Here it is (Stephen Maturin, one of his heroes, is in Boston talking to a local man about “vulgar colonialisms” in American English):


Why, sure,’ said Evans [the Bostonian], in his harsh nasal metallic bray, ‘the right American English is spoke in Boston, and even as far as Watertown. You will find no corruption there, I believe, no colonial expressions, other than those that arise naturally from our intercourse with the Indians. Boston, sir, is a well of English, pure and undefiled.’

‘I am fully persuaded of it,’ said Stephen. ‘Yet at breakfast this morning Mr Adams, who was also riz in Boston, stated that hominy grits cut no ice with him. I have been puzzling over his words ever since. I am acquainted with the grits, a grateful pap that might with advantage be exhibited in cases of duodenal debility, and I at once perceived that the expression was figurative. But in what does the figure consist? Is it desirable that ice should be cut? And if so, why? And what is the force of with?’

After barely a moment’s pause, Mr Evans said, ‘Ah, there now, you have an Indian expression. It is a variant upon the Iroquois katno aiss’ vizmi - I am unmoved, unimpressed.’

The implication is perfectly clear that Evans, having categorically asserted that Bostonian English contains no “colonial expressions”, has been obliged to improvise a fabricated “Indian” etymology for the one mentioned by Stephen.

That’s a good explanation until the last line.  Note that Evans’ assertion is that, “You will find no corruption there, I believe, no colonial expressions, other than those that arise naturally from our intercourse with the Indians.”

Evans said that one would find this single source of corruption and Steven pops up with an example. Evans would have to have been an accomplished liar and wit to come up with that complex alliterative story off the top of his honest head, so I lean much more toward O’Brian having stumbled upon the true origins somewhere not noted. It would be fascinating to learn if it’s in his papers, perhaps some future literary researcher will one day find it. I believe too that there are other incursions of this nature that use the meaning of a phrase in another language attributed to a nonsensical phrase that when spoken it suggests in English. I’ve read another opinion that it’s O’Brian who’s telling the tall tale here. But like his character, Evans, I don’t get the impression he was given to playing his readers for fools, nor inserting nonsense into his meticulously researched period writing.

I put some effort into finding a dictionary of the Iriquois language and found it hard going. English translations are few, spotty, and often religious. The collections of same seemed to have jealous guardians with little interest in sharing the information. Given this I am hard pressed to understand how one British site dismissed the possibility of the Iriquois connection with contempt. It was if the writer knew something about the Iriquois language yet nothing of the sort was mentioned. Perhaps he was offended by the levity, the humor of a grave Indian muttering the ridiculous English phrase about cutting no ice as a means of voicing contempt for something. O’Brian’s writing abounds with with humor both broad and sly.

[ Edited: 16 July 2009 01:37 AM by sensordev ]
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Posted: 16 July 2009 06:26 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]
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I trust you’re joking.

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Posted: 16 July 2009 06:40 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]
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I must be missing something. It seems to me Evans couldn’t have made it more plain that he was joking with katno aiss’ vizmi . I find it astonishing that people have inferred there must be a real Iroquois original on the basis of this.

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Posted: 16 July 2009 07:10 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]
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... Mr Evans said, ‘Ah, there now, you have an Indian expression. It is a variant upon the Iroquois katno aiss’ vizmi - I am unmoved, unimpressed.’

... Evans would have to have been an accomplished liar and wit to come up with that complex alliterative story off the top of his honest head,

Complex?
Alliterative?
Story?

Even if all of those descriptions were apt (instead of none), characters in fiction (you do realize this excerpt is from fiction?) often show a rapidity of wit that would be enviable in real people, since the author is not required to come up with their bon mots in real time.

(Or perhaps LH is right.  It would certainly be kinder to assume that I didn’t recognize that you were joking than that you didn’t recognize O’Brien was.)

[ Edited: 16 July 2009 10:19 AM by Dr. Techie ]
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Posted: 16 July 2009 07:29 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]
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characters in fiction (you do realize this excerpt is from fiction?) often show a rapidity of wit that would be enviable in real people, since the author is not required to come up with their bon mots in real time.

Most of my bon mots are done on l’escalier.

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Posted: 16 July 2009 07:51 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 15 ]
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There’s an 1891 citation in The Central Law Journal in Google Books for “cut ice” (no “no” and no figurative meaning):

102. Riparian rights. ... he is entitled to go upon the river and cut ice therefrom, and if he is restrained by injunction at the suit of the riparian owners he may maintain an action for damages ...”

There are several earlier citations but not on full view.

[ Edited: 16 July 2009 07:54 AM by ElizaD ]
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